To Enable Academic Transformation, Leaders Crave Three Things

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Leading academic transformation at our institutions requires three fundamentals: actionable insight, compelling stories, and student-centeredness.

sky view of campus quadrangle
Credit: Stephen Griffith / Shutterstock © 2018

Leading academic transformation at our institutions requires three things: actionable insight, compelling stories, and student-centeredness. These three fundamentals are what energized a great deal of the recent Leading Academic Transformation (LAT) Community discussions at the 2018 EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Annual Meeting in New Orleans. From the featured session offered by Bernard Bull, chief innovation officer at Concordia University, to the LAT Roundtable Discussion that followed his presentation, to the LAT Community meeting, participants kept revisiting these concepts...or, shall we say, these imperatives.

Bull called for a process of "responsible experimentation" on our campuses so that we can gain actionable insight to steward innovation from small pilot projects to macro-level initiatives. His vision entails a "hopeful, humane, and empowering educational ecosystem." By cultivating a culture of play-testing that relishes iteration and refinement, and by paying close attention to kairos (ancient Greek word for opportune timing), Bull contended, leaders of educational institutions will see the pathways for effective academic transformation laid bare before them. What leaders need, and what our institutions need, are R&D units for rapid prototyping and experimentation. For his part, Bull is advancing a variety of methodological and philosophical pathways that combine actionable insight, compelling stories, and student agency.

Those of us who attended the LAT Roundtable Discussion with Bull dove a bit deeper into his research on winning leadership traits. Seven story vignettes illustrated the traits for us, and in our small groups we considered the tales within the contexts of our own experiences and institutions. Participants were abuzz with how to embody the leadership traits within their units and institutions. Some shared exciting tactics and spoke of enlisting other deans and vice presidents for a truly cross-functional approach.

The metaphors and story vignettes spilled over into the next LAT session: the community meeting. Here, Matt Lewis, senior instructional designer for Mercy College, and I conducted a story-circle to surface narratives that offer insight and spur us to action. The hot topic was IMS Global's announcement of Learning Tools Interoperability Advantage (an extension of LTI standards for third-party tools). Participants drafted story ideas that cut to the heart of teaching and learning with technology. They spoke of vulnerability, of inspiration, and of liberation from the tedium of having to copy gradebook data from one system to another. The deep linking that LTI Advantage promises should not be underestimated as both a time saver and a mind saver.

Many of the conference sessions put our learners at the center of the conversation. When conversation focuses on how change is a constant and how the future is now, we need all innovators sharing actionable insight on how to improve student learning, retention, and degree completion. As Diana Oblinger, EDUCAUSE president emerita, pointed out, we are reimagining higher education by anticipating the way the professions are going to be reconfigured in light of the advances being made with artificial intelligence, AR/VR, and predictive analytics. Our students need experiences and skills that will prepare them for "new collar" jobs — that is, careers that will leverage and amplify their talents and support them as they pursue breakthrough forms of learning in burgeoning, changing fields. Looking out over the 41st floor, with the super moon hanging low over the winding Mississippi river and delta, ELI attendees and LAT members raised a glass to community. We are much the stronger and wiser for it. I look forward to seeing you and continuing these critical conversations next year in Anaheim!

Tori Mondelli serves as Executive Director for Teaching Excellence and Engaged Learning at Mercy College.

© 2018 Tori Mondelli. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.